Principles of the Japanese diet to avoid stress and help lose weight

Kaki Okumura, author of “Wa – The Art of Balance”
Kake Okumura

  • Kake Okumura He is a Japanese wellness writer who was raised in the United States and Japan.
  • In Japan I learned that food is not just fuel and that it can be used to express love.
  • Two of the Japanese eating principles that they follow are moderation and variety.

The paradox of eating well is that often the more effort we put in, the less happy we feel. Strategies like counting calories, tracking macros, and intermittent fasting require a high degree of commitment, can quickly become overwhelming, and you may start to feel obsessed.

Growing up in the US, I was overweight. In desperation, I resorted to drastic strategies like counting calories to reach a weight that I felt was acceptable. Even after I achieved that, my thoughts were filled with concerns like, “Am I eating too much,” “This is too much fat,” and “I can’t go to the party because they’re going to serve donuts.”

I was technically healthy according to the number on the scale, but I hated the idea of ​​having to navigate my health in this way for the rest of my life.

It was only after I moved to Japan and got to know a different perspective towards healthy eating that I realized there was no need to be obsessed. We can be healthy and enjoy our favorite snacks, sweets and foods without worrying too much. I learned that food is not just fuel, it is how we express love, understand our culture, and express our values.

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The author, Kakei Okumura enjoys some Japanese food
Kake Okumura

So what is the Japanese way of eating? What I learned from life in Japan is that eating healthy isn’t so much about making a 180-degree change in our diet, but it’s about focusing on the small actions we take every day, and understanding this complex, our healthy habits can have a huge impact.

These two Japanese principles of healthy eating helped me move from obsession to freedom:

If we eat in moderation, we can still enjoy sweets.
Kake Okumura

1. Eat in moderation

Harahachi-bunme directly translates to “80% your stomach” but what it really means is eat in moderation. The idea is that for most of our meals, we should enjoy them until we’re 80% full, which is the point where we’re full, but not overly so.

In this way, we can enjoy the dishes and foods we like, without much change. It doesn’t really require changing anything about what you eat, just to factor in how much you eat. Stop at 80% full, and you’ll never have to go on another diet.

The caveat is that it’s hard to understand satiety if we don’t eat any high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, but these foods also don’t need to be our complete diet. If we eat in moderation and eat nutrient-dense foods regularly, we can enjoy sweets, snacks, and whatever else while maintaining a healthy diet.

Adding a layer of vegetables to this soba noodle soup helps make it more filling
Kake Okumura

2. Focus on diversity

While many diets revolve around cutting out food or over-focusing on increasing our intake of “superfoods,” the traditional Japanese diet often emphasizes variety.

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For example, a common way to serve Japanese meals is through ichiju-sansai, which translates to “one soup, three sides.” One soup is usually miso soup, and the three sides are usually one portion of protein, and two of the vegetable dishes.

You don’t need to take this saying literally to benefit from it. One of my favorite ways to apply ichiju-sansai is simply to balance out the meal I’d normally eat—for example, if I’m having Thai fried rice as a takeout, I might microwave some broccoli or edamame for an extra serving of veggies and toss in.

The irony is that worrying less about my diet has been crucial to improving it. Stress and obsessive-compulsive disorder are not the means to a healthy diet, nor are they necessary. When we are able to consistently practice moderation and variety, we can achieve our health goals without worrying about what we eat. Instead, we can focus on the aspects of life that make it happy, fulfilling, and meaningful.

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